Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Trumpeter of Krakow, by Eric P. Kelly

The story takes place in 1461-1462, in Krakow, Poland. The main character is Joseph, a boy of about 15, whose family leaves their home in the Ukraine after a Tartar raid on their house. The raid turns out to have been because of a treasure that Joseph's family has guarded for generations; in the event that its hiding place was discovered, the family had sworn an oath to surrender it only to the king of Poland. So to Krakow they go; on the way they are confronted by a Tartar-Cossack named Peter of the Button Face who has guessed about their treasure. They make it safely, though, and there they meet a well-respected priest, a kindly alchemist, and his neice, Elzbeitka, who is just about Joseph's age, thus rounding out the cast of main characters. Joseph's father finds work as a tower watchman, and the story takes place around his hourly playing of a certain hymn, called the Heynal (or in Polish, HejnaƂ) from the guard tower.

I really enjoyed this book. It felt a little like King Arthur - a story involving magic, kings, treasure, good and evil. You don't get very close to any of the characters, but it felt like you weren't supposed to, the way it was told, and I didn't mind. There's a lot of alchemy talk, and hypnotism was clearly an interesting topic to the author (more than to this reader!), but it doesn't matter if you skim those parts, and if you've read Harry Potter the alchemy bits won't bother much.

The Heynal is real, and is a story of its own, which you can read about here (click here to hear it). Also worth noting is that the author clearly loved the city; Krakow has largely been off my radar, but I finished the book wanting to know what of the ancient city is still there, and considering it for the first time as a destination someday.

Today's kids might find the writing style somewhat dated, but the story is still solid - I give it an 8 for readability and overall enjoyment!

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